Carl LaFong (mcdee) Thu 20 Oct 05 07:20
Hah! A related issue is that of what constitutes African American authenticity in the current day. This is hardly the only ethnic group that has had to confront the issue of whether behavior and attitudes rooted in the ghetto are in fact the most authentic expression of their ethnicity. Ghetto and non-ghetto styled Irish Americans used to refer to each other derisively as "bog trotters" and "lace curtain Irish" respectively. What's different in the case of African Americans is that their ethnicity is by its nature instantly recognizable, making it difficult for individual members of the group to ignore such issues, and that for 150 years a good chunk of the American entertainment business has been based on black styles and stereotypes -- and perhaps never morseso than now. What makes Eminem compelling to me as an artist is that he's talented and has something to say -- I always give his stuff a listen even though in general I'm not a big rap fan, or a big fan of anything from the past 25 years or so. I think he may represent more than a white guy "acting black." I think the advent of Eminem is a sign that ethnic identities have blurred among at least part of the American population and that the attitudes and styles expressed by Eminem are no longer exclusively black. This is not the first time such a thing has happened (is pizza still exclusively Italian-American?) but we're so used to having a firm line between black and white ethnicity that we have no way to make sense of it. Other than suggesting it is skillful posing or cultural theft, neither of which may make sense in this case.
Berliner (captward) Thu 20 Oct 05 07:40
"This is not the first time such a thing has happened (is pizza still exclusively Italian-American?) but we're so used to having a firm line between black and white ethnicity that we have no way to make sense of it." Speaking of Italian-American, how about the way those same I-As made doo-wop their own? Dion and the Belmonts did just fine on the black charts -- to name just one group.
Make mine decafe this afternoon (jonsson) Thu 20 Oct 05 08:42
Italians have a strong tradition of music at home that they brought to the U.S.. So they have skill as one of the American ethnic groups that most valued music and musical training. But it runs both ways as it seems there has been a potent call and response going on between the Italian/Italian-american and Afro-american music for quite some time, particularly what I've read about Detroit with Motown and the later disco that morphed into electronic dance music. As to what is authentic or not...some (decafinated) speculations. There is I suppose as well a certain mastery of the canon, of the genre based on intensive listening and practicing, and to some an emotional need, that lends to authenticity. Early exposure to the genre could also be a factor. Initiation to the form via intensive jamming with people and other means of having the art passed on to the artist could put them on the road to authenticity. Some can successfully accomplish this by practicing to records even, but like any other language, depth will be missing if the vocabulary of timing, timbre, and other subtlties are not acquired somehow. Sometimes I think visualization might be a factor, visualization of landscapes and scenarios. Having a CV that includes working in a coal mine likely makes singing about working in a coal mine a little more convincing. Imagination can perhaps fill in some gaps, if the artist is serious and hard working enough.
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 20 Oct 05 09:38
Having a CV? From context something about community history?
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Thu 20 Oct 05 09:41
Lack of just that sort of authenticity is what makes most modern C&W completely unlistenable to me.
Sharon Lynne Fisher (slf) Thu 20 Oct 05 09:47
CV -- academic term for resume. curriculum vitae or somesuch
Berliner (captward) Thu 20 Oct 05 09:49
Modern C&W is perfectly authentic to its audience, which is suburban females over 35. Take the earphones off of a kid on a tractor and he's listening to Linkin Park or Eminem or Zep. (Incidentally, Lee Dorsey never worked a day in a coal mine, but he did have an auto-body shop for years and years).
Gail Williams (gail) Thu 20 Oct 05 09:51
(Duh! Of course - Cv is in CV. I thought the sentence was about the collective instead of the individual and it threw me. Thanks.)
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Thu 20 Oct 05 09:56
Right, Ed, and one of the problems with "Americana" flavored C&W is that it's authentically made for an audience that died off about 20 years ago. Ma & Pa Kettle have gone to their reward. Which isn't to say some of the music is not terrific.
Berliner (captward) Thu 20 Oct 05 09:59
Well, no, I'd say "Americana" is aimed at an urban (mostly) college-educated audience who feel deracinated, and who have taken to learning about older country styles while supporting new performers who articulate some of their interests.
Carl LaFong (mcdee) Thu 20 Oct 05 10:07
Right, that's the *actual* audience (obviously, they aren't selling CDs to dead farmers born in 1908).
Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Thu 20 Oct 05 10:20
Wished I'd been here earlier for the whole Italian-American exchange, because the (Young) Rascals fit right in there, as well as adding yet another layer of complexity to the whole issue of authenticity. And I just popped my copy of the newly-issued double disc of Bill Withers' debut, "Still Bill" into the computer to watch the DVD side, which combines archival interviews and performance footage with a contemporary interview Withers did with Elvis Mitchell. Bill is at his irascible best, saying that white and academic folks can't know shit when it comes to the true experience of the blues, which can only be gleaned from being black. To paraphrase, he says, "You're gonna come up here after reading something in some book somewhere and talk to me about The BLUES? Man, my momma spent years scrubbing white people's floors on her hands and knees. You don't know nothin' about 'the blues.' Kiss my ass." Embittered? Perhaps. But the man does have a point.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Thu 20 Oct 05 10:49
Indeed he does. Leadbelly once said no white man can truly sing the blues "'cause he's got nothin' to worry 'bout." Whites might interpret his comment in terms of economics, and say, wait a minute, plenty of whites are poor and desperate. I think Leadbelly was talking about things other than money, though, just as Bill Withers was.
Berliner (captward) Thu 20 Oct 05 12:44
The Rascals are yet another great undervalued band -- I have to thank Kevin for re-introducing me to them -- whose explorations in black music went well beyond their "white soul" period: they even recorded with Alice Coltrane at one point. I think the album was "Peaceful World?"
Gary Lambert (almanac) Thu 20 Oct 05 16:04
Yep, "Peaceful World" was the first album The Rascals made for Columbia, which had lured the band away from Atlantic for huge bucks, thinking they were buying the dependable hit machine that turned out a long string of great singles from "Good Lovin'" to "People Got To Be Free." Imagine Columbia's dismay when they got a transformed Rascals (minus Eddie Brigati, who quit just as the new contract was being finalized), who turned in a hit-free album with a side-long title track featuring Alice Coltrane, Joe Farrell and other jazz luminaries.
Lisa Rhodes (lisarhodes) Thu 20 Oct 05 16:09
One of my favorite memories from playing music was opening for Little Steven and the Disciples of Soul because Dino Danelli was playing drums for him. Even my jaded lead player was excited about it. As far as academics not knowing the blues, well grad school bummed me out quite a bit;) Sorry I have been a bit out of pocket. I invited Ellen Willis down to speak at Temple U yesterday. Ed, a hello to you from her. Kevin, I wanted to respond to your comments, so I just reprinted them as there have been quite a few posts since then. "Insofar as your point, Lisa... I confess to a bit of mystification. Your academician attempts to characterize what Northern listeners felt in hearing 'Dixie' when she writes that the song, 'tapped Northern nostalgia for the agrarian life in an era when the North was changing rapidly and the South was not.' "Is this a suggestion that Southerners, who after all, adopted the tune as theirs, were ambivalent or oblivious to its lyric content? Had Northerners identified so strongly with it, perhaps they would have adopted 'Dixie' as their signature in song, rather than 'Battle Hymn of the Republic.'" Doubtful, as not much cotton was grown up North. "I'm simply writing about what the lyrics suggest, and I believe that is a more logical place to interpret from than trying to get into the heads of those Northerners who were hearing the tune more than a hundred and fifty years ago -- unless there's some theater exit poll of which I'm unaware." The History Dept here was so pleased that there is no point in trying to decipher cultural meanings in eras where we can no longer conduct theater exit polls. There has been wild cheering and I believe the building is now for sale. Although there are a lot of over-educated folks who are now unemployed. Seriously, the way that you understand how dead folks felt or thought is that you listen to them. Through diaries, reviews of shows, letters and other sources. Dr. Varon is not a mere "academician," she is an expert on 19th century America with a Ph.D. from Yale and four titles out on the subject. If she asserts that this is how Northerners felt about the song, she is not relying upon the suggestions of the lyrics but rather upon the facts she has been able to glean from years of study on the subject. "Much of what's written elsewhere in her reply includes points I make as well. I am perhaps guilty of assuming in that section that readers understand the South was an overwhelmingly agrarian economy while the North was about the business of industrialization. But I certainly never assert the opposite." No, you don't, you state that the way "the country" was heading was towards industrialism. That just wasn't so. Only part of it was. "I also report that there was much fear in the North that if the slaves were emancipated, competition for even the lowest jobs on the economic ladder would be evermore fierce. It follows then that abolitionists were held in low esteem in many Northern quarters. "In terms of 'isolationism,' (and I don't have the book handy as I'm typing this) I was referring to Southern isolationism and the states' rights struggles that preceded the war. This very notion was what led to secession in the first place -- 'leave us alone and let us have our slaves and live our lives as we see fit.' How one extrapolates that to the world stage and a global conflict three generations later is something of a head-scratcher for me. How does the U.S. isolationism that led to Pearl Harbor apply? Help me." The term "isolationism" has a particular meaning. It refers to the US eschewing foreign involvements. What you are refering to is kwown (both in academia and in general audience writings on American history) as "regionalism." It's an easy mistake. "As to my 'regional bias...' I'm sorry, what regional bias? Where do I say that one way of life (industrial vs. agrarian) is 'better?' I never intended to imply such a thing. I didn't feel it while writing, so if you found it the text, I'm most perplexed." Perplexed is always a good state of mind for me. It usually means that I am doing some thinking. As far as your regional bias. Let me spell it out for more plainly. You stated that "the nation" was moving towards industrialization and away from agrarianism. That was only true for one region of the country:the North. You wrote "...the utopia depicted so romanitically [in "Dixie"] is at odd with the country's direction..." That one of the outcomes of the Civil War, i.e. the industrialization of the whole country, was a foregone reality before the war was even fought, implies that you assume the whole country was heading that way in any case. It wasn't and the South didn't for the better part of a century after the war. "I was born in Brooklyn, NY and moved to El Paso, TX when I was eight. I know both regions of the country well enough to know that both have advantages and drawbacks. Certainly it's clear that I found slavery cruel and unjustifiable, but I'm hardly the first writer to do so. "To conclude, I don't think I insinuated the system wasn't working well for the American South at the onset of the war. I simply state the obvious: civilization was moving toward industrialization, and the South was deeply invested in maintaining its status quo." To equate civilization and industrialization is highly problematic. I think you can see why. If not, ask anyone who works in a maquiladora. "Obviously Southerners thought their system was working for them, or they wouldn't have shed blood to preserve it. 'Dixie' tries to immortalize the Southern way of life in song. Since the song was written from the slave's perspective, and he's a happy fellow who states, 'I wish I was in de land ob cotton,' the idea was to portray slaves as contented in their servitude." "But progress (not your humble scribe) ensured that such an agrarian economy (with slavery as a vital component) could not survive. Would you call me anti-horse and buggy to declare that the automobile would one day replace them?" Not all Southerners used slave labor. Most couldn't afford it. The large plantations are comparable to today's agri-businesses. This is very clear when you consider the fact that the South's agrarian economy continued for almost a century after the Civil War. This also brings us to the sharecropper portion of the discussion above. What the South lost in the Civil War, in addition to its unfree labor, was its prosperity, not its way of making a living. People, black and white, still farmed. "As the one responsible for what's on the printed page, I'll have to take a long and hard look at what I've written, to make certain that if I'm able to clear up any misunderstandings in another edition, I do so. I hope this helps to clarify in the interim." No author or reader could ask for more.
Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Thu 20 Oct 05 20:12
Thanks for your post, Lisa. There are some points we could argue ad infinitum, But I took particular notice of your use of "regionalism" vs. "isolationism." Had I used your terminology, I might have avoided a lot of the confusion. Thanks for your patience with me -- and the text.
The mask is the new face! (jonsson) Fri 21 Oct 05 01:55
What I wonder about sometimes is what would of happened to slavery if the war had never happened. The north and england phased out child labor and it seems possible that the south may have done the same with the institution of slavery. What percentage of the wealth of the south was absolutely dependent on slavery and shouldn't that be factored into reparations at some point in time? On the otherhand the damage the north inflicted on the south to non-slave holding enterprises and real estate, shouldn't that be paid back as well, if we are talking economic justice? The cases of Buddy Miles and Bill Withers seem to be particularly sad instances of the race line having a negative effect on at least 2 peoples lives. Kevin, do you have any more to say about these 2 people or the feelings you got from talking with them? Did you meet both or either of them and where are they today?
Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Fri 21 Oct 05 04:40
Darrell, I've talked with them both at length, but only by phone. Buddy Miles, as he is quoted in the book, is fairly unhappy that Hendrix' white management had no faith in Band of Gypsys because they were an all-black trio. They pressured Jimi to reunite the Experience in order to capitalize on the whole "superspade and two British rockers" formula that had worked so well from 1966 to 1968. Buddy continues to put out records sporadically, and you'd have last seen him as the voice of the California Raisins. Bill Withers is alive and well and raising his own brand of hell in Beverly Hills. He gives interviews rarely, but is extremely bright and most definitely one of the most opinionated people quoted in the book -- only Artie Shaw comes close. He's never been a big fan of the music business, has very little use for the fellows in A&R (artists and repertoire) who he feels know nothing better than to try to find more of what's selling elsewhere in the marketplace. That said, he seems to be relatively happy with the life that he's built for himself. As I mentioned, his debut album (produced by Booker T. Jones of Booker T. and the MG's) has just been reissued as a dual disc, with one side the remastered CD and the other a DVD. And, as the covers from Club Nouveau ("Lean On Me") and S.O.U.L. System ("Lovely Day") and Michelle N'Dege Ochello (sp?) ("Who Is He and What Is He to You?") indicate, he was one of the best songwriters of the era. Buddy Guy still likes to do "Use Me" onstage, and even though it was never a huge hit, the song has survived so well on oldies radio, he had the crowd singing along with him.
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Fri 21 Oct 05 06:25
Kevin > Have you seen the documentary 'Band of Gypsies'?
Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Fri 21 Oct 05 07:42
I have not. Is it a doc on the trio?
Darrell Jonsson (jonsson) Fri 21 Oct 05 08:24
Perhaps it does not have U.S. distribution, it is though a documentary about the trio, and Miles is interviewed about the group as well. Miles is actually crying because it sounds like it was not only a critical turn for his career, but business had interfered with a great friendship. Still though those close to the Hendrix office were interviewed saying they thought perhaps Hendrix had made the decision, which I find hard to believe. Band of Gypsies was the best thing Hendrix ever did IMHO, I've wore out numerous cassette, vinyl copies, until the live at the Filmore CDs came out so I'm biased. It seems though he was caught in the white validation dynamic and even perhaps the old mother country validation thing which impacted the states both in the realm of music and in literature. That is the wierd thing about the blues, when blues stars went to the UK it was like the 'second coming of christ' by some accounts, Why do we need english people singing blues before white americans think its cool? Still though one can't help feel sorry for Buddy Miles, they really tore up a good partnership on that move, just listen to the vocal harmonies Hendrix and Miles were doing.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 21 Oct 05 12:56
Kevin, this has been an excellent discussion and I want to thank you for joining us for the past two weeks. I also want to thank Lisa for so ably leading this conversation. We've just launched another interview with a new author, but I want to assure you that this conversation doesn't have to stop. The topic will remain open indefinitely and you're more than welcome to continue as long as you wish. We're happy to have you here and hope you'll be able to continue.
Kevin Phinney (kevinphinney) Fri 21 Oct 05 17:50
Cynthia, thanks for your kind words. It's been terrific getting input from so many folks who are obviously well steeped in numerous areas under consideration in the book, so I most definitely should be the one thanking all of you. I'm packing for a move to Seattle in the next week, so it'll be some time before I'm settled in. Anyone with specific ideas, observations, complaints or quibbles should feel free to contact me via e-mail at Finiapolis@AOL.com. I very much appreciate your opening the forum to allow my participation.
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